In the summer of 1999, a West Virginia native named Brad Paisley made a late addition to his debut “Who Needs Pictures” album, after a group of country radio programmers went crazy over a new song he had just demoed called “He Didn’t Have To Be.”
That was one of the first singles ever at country radio about the kids of parents who had been divorced and separated, and by September “He Didn’t Have To Be,” co-written by Paisley and his old Belmont University bud Kelley Lovelace, was the No. 1 Billboard country single.
Now another gifted group from the Mountaineer State called Taylor Made are finding their own radio success with “Quiet Kind Of Crazy,” a tune that likewise deals with the modern realities of married life, since its hero is a single mom.
That’s a subject near and dear to their hearts, since Taylor Made’s three members – Wendy Williams, Brian Duckworth, and Greg Duckworth – were three of a huge brood of seven kids raised by a single mom. Even Wendy – a proud, working mom to three girls – was, at one point, a single mom.
“My favorite thing at our shows is to look into the audience and pick out several individuals,” Wendy, who works days as an office manager, says in phone conversation from West Virginia in mid-February.
“While we’re singing `Quiet Kind Of Crazy,’ they’re singing the words with a tear streaming down the face because they’ve been there,” she continues.
Brian, a truck driver, loves to honor their own mom every time he sings and plays the new single, which rocketed up to No. 61 on the Music Row magazine CountryBreakout Chart after just 6 weeks.
“We were raised the majority of our life by our mom,” he says. “When we needed a shoulder to cry on, it was our mom. We would love for this song to be the next `He Didn’t Have To Be,’ and honestly if this song gives a little extra strength to our fans, that’s terrific. ”
They’re called Taylor Made in part because they’re from Taylor County, W. Va., a little bit south of Morgantown, the home of the West Virginia University Mountaineers. WVU’s famous alumni include the NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, the sweet-shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers whose nickname remains one of the greatest in sports history: “Zeke from Cabin Creek.”
Ironically, one of Taylor County’s most beloved historical figures is Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day.
Small world for a band whose current hit radio single is all about motherhood, huh?
Greg, a longtime West Virginia State Trooper, is proud that their single deals with the kind of family situations so many fans and listeners face, since so many radio hits these days are more about a lifestyle than reality: “These days,” Greg says, “it seems everyone is just singing about the country way of life.”
Taylor Made began singing as kids at a local Pentecostal church, and like countless famous country, Gospel, and bluegrass family acts before them, their music is sparkled by the close harmonies that maybe only blood relatives can achieve.
They also early on learned to become a self-contained group. That tradition of versatility carries on today. Wendy, for instance, plays guitar, bass, and keyboard. Brian taught Wendy bass during a period when he was undergoing rehabilitation for a classic Mountaineer injury – “I pretty nearly cut my hand off with a chain saw,” he says.
Now if THAT ain’t country, what is?
The band entered the Colgate Country Showdown, which bills itself as “America’s longest-running and largest talent search,” and has been the breeding ground for Music Row talents including Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Miley Cyrus, and Paisley.
This year, as the Country Showdown enters its 30th season, it also has a new title sponsor. The legendary program is now known as the Texaco Country Showdown. Bands and artists nationwide compete for the championship finals, which takes place at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium and is hosted by LeAnn Rimes.
During the Showdown competitions at Beckley, W. Va., a pal of the legendary Nashville manager Dale Morris caught the act of the band who, at that time, were called I-79 in honor of the Interstate which runs through Taylor County.
Morris is present of Dale Morris & Associates, and his management clients have included a Who’s Who of modern country and country radio superstars: Kenny Chesney, Alabama, and Gretchen Wilson, to name a few.
Morris had decades ago helped Alabama change its name from their original handle of Young Country; he did likewise by suggesting that these talented West Virginians morph from I-79 to Taylor Made.
As usual, Dale’s instincts were 100% correct. One of Dale’s top Music Row colleagues, Elise Anderson of Nashville Music Media, then helped Taylor Made reach out to crucial Nashville and country tastemakers including the fast-growing Nashville Music Guide.
Another key partnership for the band came from a pair of West Virginia businessmen called Greg Darby and Cory Beasley, who expanded the Little General chain of convenience stores to a whopping 97 stores.
”We feel in love with them and us with them,” the band says. “After meeting with them and with Dale Morris, we started our own label with them called Little General Records.”
Dale Morris Productions’ own label, DMP Records, is another vital key to Taylor Made’s success.
It’s an ideal partnership for all parties concerned, and the band has been busy making live appearances both in West Virginia and Nashville and writing and recording new material at A-list Nashville studios including The Tracking Room, as well as at local studios in West Virginia.
Taylor Made was recently featured in Nashville Music Guide – along with George Jones, Jarrod Niemann, Randy Houser, and TCM artist Chris Caskey.
Along with print success, the band’s summer schedule is quickly filling up with appearances on the Fairs and Festivals circuit. In describing their shows, Wendy says, “Mostly what you’re gonna see in our shows is a lot of fun and us interacting with each other.”
Naturally, that includes a great deal of good-natured ribbing, as the two older brothers have done to little sister Wendy since they were all teen-agers.
“Brian and I spent hours getting Wendy’s name off the water towers,” Greg says, smiling.
These days Taylor Made and their fast-growing legion of local and online fans are doing a whole lot of smiling.
By Phil Sweetland